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Sunday, March 3, 2013

I walk almost all night: Stockholm's Homeless Person



It was Sunday afternoon (February 17/2013) I was bored sitting at home and then decided to hunt for some stories and went down town at place locally called Medborgareplatsen (citizens place, its literal Swedish meaning) a hub for super trendy cafes/restaurants filled in with rich people with fat-wallets and homeless and or drug/alcohol addicted people are selling Situation Stockholm (local magazine about homeless people) or begging for alms or a few of them boozing on cheap alcohol or roaming around aimlessly. When I came out from the tube
I saw these small black make-shift tents with lots of activities and some young musicians playing songs not showing any sign of pain from the frostbite. And then, I saw a sign SoppKök written on a discarded cardboard on one of the tents where homeless people were being served hot soup of different types by young men and women in their 20s and 30s; what a jackpot! I read about their activities for a while on twitter but I was never able to do a story about it for various reasons. Unlike other places where similar services are being given, here the vibe was jolly, everybody was taking care of the homeless people as human-being with respect and dignity; there's neither hierarchy nor the phenomenon of ”giver-taker” relationship. Alright, I will talk to you about SoppKök now let me go back to the homeless person who was walking every single night for more than three hours in this freezing cold winter.

The accident turned my life upside down

I'll call him Mr. J. since he wants to be anonymous; life has such an interesting twist, I met Mr. J. a couple of years ago while both of us were hunting for jobs here in Stockholm. He was muscular, good looking, energetic, ambitious, bighearted person who wanted to help newly arrived immigrants by giving them tips where to apply for a job. Then he disappeared where we used to meet (Kulturehuset) a hot-spot for tourists, newly arrived immigrants, juvenile school traunts etc and I saw him a few months ago changed beyond recognition where we met at,first. He is obese, depressed and limping; I was shocked and couldn't believe my eyes it was the same guy that I met years ago. I just pretended I didn't know him not to hurt his feeling by asking “what happened”? Well, the founder of the SoppKök recommended me to interview him; I was just blabbering for a few minutes before I started asking him sensible questions. The 40 years old Mr. J had a well paying job until he got fired due to an accident which injured his knees. To make matters worse his daughter's mom allegedly accused of him something which turned out not to be true and he left the house without taking anything with him, Misery loves! He's been homeless for the past two years and sought help at various places which he alleges treated him with degrading respect and that's why he wanted to make it by himself. He spend the days at various libraries in town and the night at various fast-food chains, or subway stations until they are closed (mostly around 2 or 3 in the morning) and afterward he walks with a pain in his leg the remaining hours sometimes at temperature below -17 degrees until some of his hangouts are opened (mostly between 8 & 9 on weekday but at 11 0'clock on weekends). What's is interesting is Mr. J. still dreams of getting back to work and taking in charge of his life regardless of his very difficult situation he has been through. Good luck brother and I hope I'll see the same guy (confident, energetic, ambitious) that I met years ago. Let me take you back SoppKök

A Soup-kitchen with NO money!

I'm not kidding, it is true, it's doable and happening here in Sweden and maybe somewhere else as well; but it is not a Swedish invention and it dates back as far as Egyptian times where some people felt the moral obligation to feed the hungry. I read on Rebecca Solnit's A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster (a must read book) that this form of soup kitchen started in America by local victims who wanted to help each other, in the aftermath of the 1906 great earthquake which stroke San-Francisco. Solnit chronicles the most altruistic and humane similar soup kitchens or other service providers initiated by concerned citizens who wanted to take charge of their lives and people around them during and after natural or man-made calamities where a normal life became eventually dysfunctional due to the absence of the common actors (government, civic organizations, etc). Like I said earlier, SoppKök is an initiative run by like-minded private individuals which doesn't accept money; it prefers your support either in kind ( food items, hygienic materials, clothes, shoes etc), spending your times by getting involved in the activities ( borrowing/transporting logistics necessary for the kitchen, preparing and serving food and drinks, providing the basic necessities etc) or using your talents be by playing music or mounting up a tent but above all mingling with and listening what these marginalized, stereotyped and disfranchised peoples' reasons as to why they become homeless. Young, old, men, women even children accompanied with parents are welcomed at SoppKök to give service so long as they left behind their hang-ups about homeless people; that's what it makes SoppKök different from the rest of service providers which treat these vulnerable people with utter disrespect and power hierarchy. Sadly, SoppKök which started giving services a year ago opens once in a month (on Sunday between 12:00 -18:00 GMT local time) and I asked Tanvir Mansour, the founder of SoppKök, instead of giving the fish why don't his association give a hook to the people to do the fishing. Mansour told me that they are not here to solve every individual homeless person's life but instead to break the silence about homelessness in Sweden so that the politicians to do their job to solve the problems of homeless people either by building more apartments or identifying the root-causes of the ever increasing homelessness problem in the country. In that regard, Mansour said they made an impact and now the general public and the politicians started to talk about homelessness and how to solve it.

Thirty-five Homeless people in Sweden
I was freezing and shaking and all I wanted to do was go home, eat and drink something hot. I tucked in my warm bed and I felt ashamed for still freezing and not being able to move my fingers, after spending just a few hours there filming and yet people like Mr. J. are walking at the wee-hours in this weather because they don't a have a place to sleep in one of five super-rich countries in the world. Recent figures show the scope and magnitude of homelessness is increasing but unfortunately it is not the priority list of the politicians; there are over thirty-five thousand homeless people ranging from small children to as old as seventy-five years old in Sweden of this eight thousand of them live in Stockholm, the of capital the world's top fifteenth richest country in the world. It is no brainer to know the majority of these homeless are either undocumented asylum-seeking and/or migrants from other non-EU member countries who are the most vulnerable and risk groups not entitled in many cases to financial aid, accommodation, schooling or any other forms assistance from Swedish authorities unlike their peers who are in the same situation. It's your choice either to spend from a few minutes to some hours of your life with this noble cause either by getting involved or donating the basic necessities to homeless people who don't choose to be or just pay hundreds of Kronor on over-priced beef-steak 5dl expensive drinks at the nearest a fancy restaurants/cafes across the street. Click here to be part of this group and make a difference in Mr. J's life or others. Tusen Tack SoppKök for the wonderful experience. Hoppas vi ses nästa månad. 

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